Monday, December 19, 2016

Pious Frauds

If ten reviewers of undoubted veracity were to find a book on their tables, and to unite in calling it “graceful and happy,” “forcible and fluent,” “fascinating,” “commanding,” “very interesting,” “singularly graphic,” and “grand, grave, and argumentative,” we should probably consider such undesigned coincidences conclusive as to the merits of the publication. Such has been the happy fate (as recorded by himself) of Stephen Watson Fullom, author of The Marvels of Science, The Great Highway, and, lastly, of The History of Woman—softly beautiful as music's close. Our acquaintance with this fortunate gentleman is founded upon the first and last of these works, for we have not read The Great Highway. We are sorry that we cannot join the chorus of admirers. Mr. Fullom belongs to that class of authors who address themselves virginibus puerisque, and against whom parents and guardians ought to be sedulously warned. He would not for the world say a word against religion or morality. On the contrary, he is quite in the other line. "Genuine service," says one of his critics, “has been done to the cause of Revelation by the issue" of The Marvels of Science. We have no reason to doubt that Mr. Fullom sincerely means to render such service, but if, amongst other arts of the Bible history, he would refer to the story of Uzzah , he would find that there is a large class of persons who can best; serve the “cause of Revelation" by holing their tongues. We can conceive no books better calculate than Mr. Fullom’s to disgust a high-spirited lad or an inquisitive girl with what they have been taught to believe, or to predispose them to listen to those who disavow Christianity and morality together. We should be sorry to accuse Mr. Fullom of conscious opposition to virtue. He must not, therefore, an pose that we mean to make any personal imputation on his character; yet we cannot but say that his books belong to a large and increasing class which, whilst they profess the most passionate orthodoxy and the purest morality, are written upon principles which appear to us fatal to both.

In Mr. Fullom’s theology. the dictation by God of every word of the Bible—we might almost say of every syllable of the Authorized Version—seems to hold a prominent place. If he held this view simply, and trusted to the necessary consistency of every part of truth to show that physical philosophy confirmed the teaching of the inspired Word, we should not have a syllable to say against him. But Mr. Fullom cannot endure that God should be his own interpreter. He insists on making plain the coincidence between the Book of Genesis and Geology for himself, and he does so at the expense of advocating a theory respecting the Books of Moses which is identical with that which Strauss adopted about the Gospels—but with this strange addition, that, in Mr. Fullom's opinion, Moses’s myths were inspired. Genesis, in his view, says one thing, and Geology, something quite different; but there is no real contradiction between them, or the first chapters of Genesis are an inspired myth. And, moreover, the myth was purposely worded in such a manner that, after Moses himself, and the Jews. and all Christians for eighteen centuries, had supposed that the words meant what they said, subsequent scientific discoverers might find ingenious methods of reconciling them with their discoveries—thereby disclosing an additional and unanswerable proof of the Divine dictation of the phrases in question. If this is not "lying for God," it is uncommonly like it; but, not to do Mr. Fullom injustice, we will give his own words:—
‘The account given by Moses is a lesson, not in science, but in religion; appealing, by its simple dignity, to the understanding of the ignorant and foolish, while it carries conviction to the minds of the enlightened and wise. . . . . Nor should it be forgotten that Moses, though writing under inspiration, was probably himself ignorant of the precise meaning of his statements. Indeed, he has imparted to them a colouring which goes far to establish this fact, and which is evidently derived from his Egyptian tutors.  It is a miraculous circumstance, that the bias of the sacred historian does not impair the authority of the narrative, nor commit it to views which are really opposed to the disclosures of science.—Marvels of Science, 125, 6, 7.
And he goes on to argue, that inasmuch as Moses and the Israelites were likely to mock at the truth, “it was permitted by the Deity, with equal wisdom and forbearance,"—for Mr. Fullom is not afraid to compliment his Maker—“that the narrative should bear a construction acceptable to a people naturally hard of belief." We suppose that this writer would have differed with Descartes as to the existence of a “Deus quidam deceptor." There is indeed something perfectly sublime in the matchless audacity with which he frames his conjectures. He supposes (History of Woman, i. 44) that the history of our Lord and the doctrine of the Trinity were at an early period made known to the Egyptians, but that they "were wisely excluded from the teaching of Moses, lest the Israelites, from old association, should fall under the yoke of the Egyptian superstition." In other words, Mr. Fullom thinks, that because the Egyptians had overlaid truth with superstition, the truth was excluded from the teaching of Moses, in order to avoid the yoke of the superstition. Yet this same man had said, in the Marvels of Science, that Moses “imparted to his statements a colouring evidently derived from is Egyptian tutors." So that Mr. Fullom thinks that Moses concealed from the Israelites truths known to the Egyptians, at the very time when he was “imparting to his statements a colouring evidently derived from his Egyptian tutors." If this kind of trash is to be put into the hands of young people on account of its “high religious tone," we shall want no further explanation of the vast increase of unbelief in the more educated classes. What conclusion could any youth of ordinarily intelligence draw from these petty quibbles, but that the Bible means anything, everything, nothing at all—that it is a mere elastic band, by which science and theology are held together, and that the Author of the Bible was not the great God who made the heavens and the earth, the Fountain and Origin of truth and justice. But we shrink from writing what Mr. Fullom's paltry quibbling suggests. ‘We hope we may quote without offence Milton's noble phrase, “Do you think God is a blind buzzard that you treat him thus?" If it is of the very essence of faith to believe in spite of difficulties, it is of the very essence of honesty to admit their existence. We should be very sorry to think that our faith in the Bible was less steadfast than Mr. Fullom’s; but we would never deny that it is quite out of our power to put forward a complete and consistent theory upon the subject of the inspiration of the Scriptures. It is enough for us to believe that all truth is consistent-that God is true though every man were a liar, and that He knows far better how to justify his own works, and his own words, than we do. To try to defend the truth of the Bible by quibbles of which even a dishonest special pleader would be ashamed, is like trying to defend the character of a friend, by admitting that he did dishonest actions, and contending that he did them with the best intentions, on the evidence of some slight look or gesture which might, be a great stretch of charity, be considered as consistent with such a supposition.

Mr. Fullom‘s services to morality are on a par with his services to theology. His “History of Woman" is an insult to the sex. It is written in a style of petty pretty compliment which strongly inclines one to inflict upon it the same fate which put an end to Agag’s delicate goings.  Mr. Fullom apparently thinks that because a woman is not a man, she is of necessity a fool.  Would he otherwise have substituted for the history of Adam and Eve a paraphrase of the second chapter of Genesis, from which we subjoin the following parallel.

Descriptions of the Garden of Eden:--

Gen. ii. 8.—And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
9. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow ever tree that is pleasant to the sight, an good for food;
I0. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11. . . . the land of Havilah where there is gold; 12:, and the gold of that land is good: There is bdellium and the onyx stone.
25. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed
Hist. Wom. i. 3, 6.—The abode of the chosen pair was designed expressly with a view to their peculiar condition and requirements. Planted by the hand of God, the garden of Eden, we are told contained “every tree that was pleasant to the sight, and for food." Groves and sylvan glades, affording a grateful refuge from the heats of noon, margined a gentle and limpid stream, which flowed through the midst of this Paradise, here leaving slopes of velvet turf, there almost meeting the flowers that drooped over its waters. Gold sparkled in its depths, and its banks were strewed with precious gems, described by Moses as the bdellium and the onyx. Birds of every plumage, yet undaunted by the presence of man, flitted from tree to tree, while others made the woods resound with their melody; and so mild and genial was the climate [a reason far more probable than the one suggested by uses that our first parents walked at will through the garden, robed only in their own innocence. Plato, in his Symposiacs, which embody the heathen tradition of Eden, on this point confirms the testimony of Moses, stating that the happy parents of man went uncovered, and exposed to the season; which, indeed, bring in neither cold nor storms, they no reason to fear.
The irreverent bad taste which can bear to travestic Scripture in this manner, and the impudence of the assertion about into is quite of a piece with the audacious and indeed impious theory of the Marvels of Science.—And this worthy beginning is amply borne out by the rest of the book. It is a string of little anecdotes out of a number of common authors, connected only by the circumstance that they mostly refer to women. The last half of the first volume refers to the women of Greece and Rome. The lax, foolish manner in which it is written may be judged of by the assertion that "general dissoluteness of manners is the most prominent characteristic in the Homeric era." Mr. Fullom, who turns the books of Moses into myths, takes Homer as solemn fact, and speaks with virtuous indignation of “the degraded character for whom the infatuated Trojans took up arms, and whom the Princesses of Troy, far from repudiating openly received as a sister."

As for Rome, Mr. Fullom thinks that “between the predictions of the Sibyl and the functions of the Vestals, it must be confessed that women exercised, in a religions point of view, considerable influence on the government of Rome. Nevertheless, their social position, whether as wives or daughters, was a painful and ignominious one, and gradually corrupted their own character, while it vitiated that of the whole Roman race." He tells us, moreover, that the Roman women were taught a system of morality which made them act like slaves, and “seek a coward's refuge in death:"—
‘Thus, under certain circumstances, suicide was absolutely held to be a duty, and Portia swallowing fire, Sophonisba receiving from her lover the cup of poison, Arria fishing her breast with her husband's dagger, though rendered more striking by the halo of history, were, in fact, but common incidents in the domestic life of Rome.-i. 343.’
We are at a loss to say whether this statement is more remarkable for truth or for generosity.

It must not be supposed, however, that Mr. Fullom confines his discoveries to ancient times. He has also a volume relating to modern women. It is all in the same style as the specimens which we have quoted-crowded with petty, smirking compliments to women in general, and full of feeble euphemisms whenever he has occasion to refer to their faults. As a single instance of the combination of all these faults with a reckless disregard for truth, we select his description of Mary Queen of Scots:—
‘It could excite no surprise if, in such a situation, this fair young queen had been betrayed into some little indiscretions which the eye of fanaticism or the unscrupulous tongue of slander might magnify into guilt; but modern candour is stunned by the unbounded virulence of her enemies, in imputing to her crimes which surpass belief. Happily these accusations are quite unsupported by facts.’
Mr. Fullom's popularity does not surprise us. The Marvels of Science are certainly amusing, and sometimes not ill written; but nothing can excuse the dishonest and audacity of the chapter on “The Two Revelations," to which we have referred; and both this book and the History of Woman are conceived and executed upon principles which of necessity set truth at defiance. We are not prepared to enter upon any criticism of Mr. Fullom's science; but it is quite incredible that any man should be able to treat with authority, or even accuracy, on the enormous range of subjects—geology, astronomy, optics, anatomy, and fifty others to which it relates. The History of Woman is, if possible, more audacious; and of its utter inaccuracy and untrustworthiness there can be no doubt, from the quotations which we have given. We cannot quit the subject without remarking, that there is an ominous consistency about these books. They are perhaps the strongest instance we have met with of a taint which has deeply infected our literature, and which threatens to extend much further. It is a sytematic disregard of truth. The very same spirit which suggested to Mr. Fullom his audacious statements about Plato and Mary Queen of Scots, and which led him to undertake subjects to which he could not possibly do justice, leads him to defend the Bible—which did not want his defence by arguments of the most palpable dishonesty, and prevents him from seeing the irreverence of the construction which he puts upon the history of the creation and the Mosaic institutions.

Saturday Review, January 5, 1866.

No comments:

Post a Comment